Today we have a guest post. Jacob D. (JD) grew up in the church in an area he affectionately terms “Zion Lite.” He served a mission in a country with police with semi-automatic weaponry and weird fatty foods, went to BYU, did more than enough graduate school, and still goes to church. Look around this Sunday, he may be sitting down the bench from you, possibly wearing fantastic socks. He could really use a friend there.
Recently, President Oaks and Elder Kevin Hathaway of the Seventy spoke at a meeting with parents in Blackfoot, Idaho. Elder Hathaway made comments that are worth discussion.
“I just wanted to add a few comments on gender and gender identification,” Hathaway said. “While we recognize what LGBT means, we do not use those labels when we talk about people. We don’t say, for example, that person is gay. We say that person struggles with same gender attraction.”
“Why is that even important? It’s important because whenever we place a label or allow a label to be placed upon us then we also…— a lot of times by default — accept the lifestyle that comes with that.”
“It’s interesting that when they use the terms “coming out” as a way to express freedom…it’s actually a way to enter in to a prison of sorts, where you have to live a certain lifestyle. So I think that as we talk to our children about gender, about identity, we are very careful in what words we use, and how we explain them.”
Elder Hathaway then stated something I hadn’t heard a leader mention before, “There are people who struggle with same-gender attraction, just like there are people who struggle with opposite-gender attraction. I struggle with that. I am attracted to my wife and I don’t mean that to be sarcastic in any way. I mean that all of us have, with these amazing bodies that God has given us, struggles and temptations. And God can bless a person who struggles with same-gender attraction in the same way that he can bless someone who struggles with being attracted to people of the opposite sex and not expressing it in the right way.”
On my mission, during daily companionship study, we often joked about the manual’s overuse of the phrase “less effective” in describing less than optimal teaching methods and approaches. In the study manuals, usually a silly and very obvious “less effective” method was paired with a “more effective” one. Here are a few points for discussion, presented in a similar fashion:
- Less Effective: Determining terms that are appropriate for a group that is not you.
- More Effective: Allowing people to use the terms with which they feel most comfortable.
Some faithful members of the church will call themselves LGBT, which self-labeling is perfectly fine. (No, calling oneself “gay” does not mean that one is already dating dudes.) An individual calling themselves “SSA/SGA” (which self-labeling is perfectly fine) also does not inherently mean that they are celibate. There are those, celibate and not, who won’t label themselves at all. While I understand the very human need to want labels, labeling others so that we can feel more comfortable or define their existence based on our terms is likely not the best approach.
- Less Effective: Reducing the experiences of LGBTQ individuals
- More Effective: Recognizing that the feelings of a gay individual toward the same sex are no different than the feelings of a straight person to their opposite-sex spouse/partner.
The terms SSA/SGA minimizes the broad spectrum of emotions, feelings, and desires of an individual to the word “attraction.” Unfortunately, within the church, it usually is further minimized to simply mean physical attraction and sex.
- Less Effective: Stating that coming out is a prison
- More Effective: Allowing someone to choose on whether or not to come out
The decision on whether or not to come out is important. Not because individuals “have to live a certain lifestyle” as Elder Hathaway supposed, but because “visibility matters” to use a common phrase. It wasn’t until close individuals came out that people realized that gay people actually are not a faceless boogeyman, but neighbors, cousins, friends at church, sisters, sons, daughters, and brothers. The published books of faithful members who have come out have also been very instructive to the church.
I appreciate Elder Hathaway’s attempts to bring it into his sphere of understanding, relating “the gay” to his feelings toward his wife. That is so important! He reports that he “suffers from opposite-sex attraction” and is “attracted to his wife.” The difference is…he has a wife. He has a wife with whom he has built a family. President Oaks has been sealed to two wives, one with whom he raised a family, the other became his companion after being single for two years. They aren’t required to disavow their own relationship and family in order to be fully accepted in their faith community. A lack of recognition in these statements consistently makes leaders of the church come across as tone-deaf. 
I know that Elder Hathaway is not in the Quorum of the Twelve or the First Presidency. But this approach has been a consistent theme of President Oaks for decades. It also is odd considering our stated willingness in other official media to allow individuals the freedom of their own labels, as well as our recent strong desire to determine OUR own label.
- Am I missing something on the importance of labels? Is Elder Hathaway correct?
- Or on the other hand, can we learn to stop worrying (about this) and love?
- A very funny movie, but not anyone’s best. How does one even WASH that robe?
- Elder Bednar, ultimately likening it to the challenge of being very attractive
- A Double Whammy for Labeling! MORMON and GAY